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Revised Education Bill Debated In Pierre



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The chair of the Senate Education Committee knew the meeting was going to draw a crowd, so he moved the meeting to the largest conference room in the Capitol. But, even that didn't seem big enough for all the stakeholders who attended to see what lawmakers would do with HB 1234.

“Our school isn't broken--it's broke!" exclaimed Harrisburg School District Superintendent Jim Holbeck.

"A room divided" is probably the best way to describe Thursday morning's Senate Education Committee meeting. Whenever legislators discuss how they should fund schools, the fight comes out. This time it pits education lobbyist against education lobbyist.

"Our group likes the changes made to the math and science teacher section of the bill," said Mitch Richter with the United School Association. "We've seen the college incentives be successful in rural doctor recruitment and we're confident this bill will help fill the needs for areas we're experiencing."

"On behalf of the Sioux Falls School District, we believe that the very basis of the bill is what is flawed," said Dick Tieszen, a lobbyist for Sioux Falls Public Schools.

School superintendents offered conflicting opinions on HB 1234.

"There are no current incentive programs, in our schools, to let good teachers, great teachers know that they are doing a good job and make sure that they're financially rewarded for doing that job," said Joe Graves, superintendent of the Mitchell School District.

"Most of the administrators in South Dakota are so short of money, they're willing to do just about anything to grab a hold of a little bit more in revenue so they can run their school," said Roger DeGroot, superintendent of the Brookings School District.

A Republican legislator eevn testified against his own governor--the creator of the bill.

"We have three different proposals we have wrestled with. I would like to ask that you kill this bill," said Sen. Stan Adelstein from Rapid City.

Before the morning is over the bill at hand is gutted, with more changes made. Instead of bonuses for math and science teachers, a scholarship is set up for those who would teach either subject for five years.

"It's a great improvement over the first two proposals in that area," said Sen. Todd Schlekeway (R-Sioux Falls).

School boards get to decide how to reward their top teachers, with options included to help them incentive hard to fill positions in any subject area. Continuing contracts remain a possibility for teachers to secure until 2016 and, even then, school boards can choose to keep their version of "tenure" in place.

The debate lasts hours and, for some legislators, like Sen. Mark Johnston (R-Sioux Falls) until the last second.

The debate over HB 1234 is far from settled. The full Senate will consider the bill Monday and, if they approve it, the House will take up this new version. If the two bodies don't agree, then leaders will appoint a conference committee with members from both sides to hammer out the details.

To read the new version of the bill, click here .
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